March 5, 2018

Monday after the Third Sunday in Lent

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. Mark 14:51-52

 

My New Testament professor in seminary loved to muse about this passage, which was funny in light of the fact that he did not like for us seminarians to interpret what was not written in scripture. Whenever one of us seminarians would break this rule he would say, “That’s all well and good, but the text does not say that. Your explanation is simply midrash.” And yet for him, this passage was fair game for this kind of extra scriptural interpretation. He fancied the idea that the little boy who ran off naked was none other than the gospel writer Mark himself. And he would throw a few facts our way to support his claim.

Going with the premise of his midrash makes me wonder about those seminal moments in each of our own day-to-day activities that change the trajectory of our lives forever. Again, making an assumption that we all have those events in our lives, it may be helpful to reflect and identify our own seminal moments. Is your moment the death of a loved one? Could it be a mountaintop experience? Might it be a time where you gave so much of yourself that you understood the power of servant ministry? Maybe it’s a time where you messed up your own life so badly that receiving and accepting grace was the only way to move forward in your life. Lent is full of opportunities for the discipline required in self-discovery. Today I invite you to reflect on those times in your life, good or bad, acknowledging that they somehow changed your life forever. After careful reflection, I invite you to pray. Because you never know how one day can change your life forever…if you let it.

 


Lord God we know that you are with us in all aspects of our lives. Please help us recognize your presence in all the things that we do and experience. Help us to have the discipline to be quiet and reflect on your activity in our lives. And then give us the wisdom to open our hearts so that you may work in and through our everyday lives. All this we ask in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The Rev. Joseph K. Smith
Saint Mary’s, Wayne

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February 27, 2018

Tuesday after the Second Sunday in Lent

He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Mark 14:37-38

 

The evening begins with Jesus and his disciples celebrating the Passover. A mood of distress is set at the beginning of the meal with the announcement that one of the twelve will betray Jesus. The anguish is heightened for Jesus because this is their Last Supper, something he knows the disciples are incapable of grasping. After supper, they come to the Garden of Gethsemane for a time of prayer. At some point, Jesus brings Peter, James and John to a place separate from the rest, and says to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and keep awake.” Jesus goes a little further, throws himself on the ground and he asks his Father to remove the cup of suffering he is about to drink. He then submits to the Father’s will.

We can only imagine Jesus’ torment as he returns to Peter, James and John. Then to find them sleeping adds disappointment and hurt to his suffering. The level of distress, agitation, aloneness, anguish and fear that must be raging in Jesus are beyond our imagination, but yet, he is gentle in his rebuke of the disciples for falling asleep. And his reminder to them, and to us, is that regardless of our best intentions, we are weak in carrying out our resolve. Only by mindfulness and prayer can we receive the strength to maneuver the trials and conflicts of life.

Lent is a time when we are reminded of our weaknesses. It is a time when we renew our resolve and practice the discipline of keeping awake and being constantly in prayer. It is an essential part of our journey to the cross which allows us to live a life of resurrection.

 


Loving God, help us to be watchful and to see the loving sacrifice of your Son in all that we encounter so that we make his sacrifice worthwhile through our actions. Amen.

 

The Rev. E. Edward Shiley
Saint David’s Church, Radnor

February 16, 2018

Friday after Ash Wednesday

But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’ Mark 14:6-9

 

It’s not that taking care of the poor is no longer important. This obligation will always be important. But time and context are everything. The context is that in Mark’s gospel, every moment is precious and ever since his baptism in the river Jordan, Jesus has been on the path that leads straight to Jerusalem and the cross. And the time has finally come for Jesus to complete his work on the cross. The backdrop is in the shadow of the Temple during the annual Passover festival. As this unknown woman bathes Jesus’ feet with an expensive ointment of nard, there were many looking on questioning the wisdom of wasting such resources in light of our obligation to the poor.

During Lent, we Christians are challenged to make choices and take on disciplines that will help us come closer to God. Many embark on a fast; a fast of alcohol, or maybe screen time, or some other things that get in the way of a holy relationship with God. As we shed ourselves of these bad habits and unhealthy wants, we make space for God to enter. Similarly, others decide to take on a discipline. The aim is not the mortification of the flesh, but rather to take on the healthy habits that lead to a stronger relationship with God. Remember, time and context are everything. Our context is a busy life as a Christian in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. The time is Lent. The time is now. The question is, will we watch and judge as the world does? Or, this Lent, will we take the time to make room for God in our busy lives?

 


A Prayer for Self-Dedication
Make us channels of your grace, O Lord, that our wills may conform to your will and our choices reflect your love to your people; so that your law may be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
taken from A Time to Pray, compiled by George Cobbett

 

The Rev. Joseph K. Smith
Saint Mary’s, Wayne

Piety in an Impious Age

The Challenge and Opportunity of Lent

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, the priest invites the congregation “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” There was a time when the Church took this invitation very seriously. We saw in Lent an opportunity to reclaim our faith in practical ways. This inclination has become less common. In 2014, the Barna group discovered that while 72 percent of U.S. adults were “aware” of Lent, only 17 percent planned to observe it in any meaningful way. There are probably many reasons for this loss of interest in Lent. For one, we are so obsessed with the idea of self-improvement that the central conceit of the season, that we are wholly dependent on God’s grace, seems irrelevant to us. Thus, for many of us, Lenten disciplines have become “New Year’s Resolutions 2.0,” a chance to recommit to whatever self-improvement scheme we abandoned during the doldrums of January instead of an opportunity to recommit to our faith. Perhaps more significantly, we live in a culture that regards any spiritual practice skeptically. By our society’s standards, the idea of devoting ourselves to prayer or the study of Scripture feels like a waste of time. All of this begs the question: why should we heed the invitation to a “holy Lent”? What does it mean to read and meditate on God’s holy word and engage in prayer, fasting, and self-denial in our increasingly secular society?

Il_Pordenone_-_San_Marco_-_BudapestThe answer to these questions can be found in the gospel according to Mark. Once considered the “black sheep” among the evangelists, Mark has undergone something of a renaissance over the past few decades. Historically, scholars dismissed the shortest gospel because it appears to be a mere summary of its counterparts. Recently, however, Christians have begun to rediscover the distinctive and eloquent witness of Mark’s gospel. No longer considered a “black sheep,” Mark has taken his rightful place as one of the true geniuses of the Christian canon. The gospel according to Mark provides a unique and riveting account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More importantly, it speaks powerfully to today’s Church. More than any other evangelist, Mark’s gospel is suffused with a profound awareness that the good news of Jesus Christ represents a significant disruption of the status quo. Moreover, the gospel according to Mark challenges us to live lives shaped by what God has accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Like Mark’s gospel, Lent disrupts and challenges us. It forces us out of our self-centered, impatient routines and invites us to look at the world in a new way. In this spirit, the Merion Deanery will be using the season of Lent to explore the ways the gospel according to Mark speaks to us today. Every day, one of the clergy of the Deanery will offer a reflection on an excerpt from the Passion Narrative in Mark’s gospel. These meditations on the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion and death will help us appreciate the gospel’s true power. Indeed, these reflections will reveal that heeding the invitation to a “holy Lent” can transform our experience of the world. We hope you will make this journey through Mark’s Passion part of your Lenten discipline and consider how this holy season and Mark’s unique perspective can shape our lives of faith.